Bhutanese in diaspora raise concern against Japan’s decision to confer an award on Dago Tshering

Picture courtesy: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bhutan.

The Global Bhutanese Campaign Coordination Committee for Japan Campaign 2021 (GBCCC-JC 2021) has sent a letter of concern on June 24 to the Prime Minister of Japan drawing the serious attention of the Japanese government in regard to the conferral of the ‘Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star’ on the former Home Minister of Bhutan, Mr. Dago Tshering.

“The decision of the Japanese Government to award Dago Tshering, a primary perpetrator of human rights violations and voice of democracy in Bhutan during the 1990s has come to us with surprise, pain and shock,” reads a press statement.

The campaign has strongly urged the government and people of Japan to review its decision and withdraw the award conferred on Mr. Dago Tshering.

In the meantime, GCCC-JC 2021 held a press conference on June 26 to clarify the goals and objectives of the campaign.

During the press meet, Jogen Gazmere, spokesperson of the GCCC-JC 2021 stressed on the need for all Bhutanese in diaspora to come together to raise their voice of concern against Japan’s decision to confer the award on a perpetrator.

The GBCCC-JC 2021 further stated that it will also launch the online petition campaign to garner further public support and solidarity. The technicalities for online campaign is under discussion as this news report is filed.

According to the press statement, the GBCCC-JC 2021 is launched by the Bhutanese community organizations including those in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Nepal, New Zealand, Norway, United Kingdom and United States of America.

Click here to see letter of support from Bhutanese community organizations across the globe.

Below is the letter, as is, which was sent to the Japanese government. 

Date: 06.24.2021

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga,
Government of Japan. 2-3-1 Nagatachō; Chiyoda-ku; 100-8968 Tokyo, Japan.

Re: Concern regarding the conferring of the ‘Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star Award’ on Mr. Dago Tshering, Former Home Minister of Bhutan

Dear Prime Minister,

The Bhutanese refugees living in the camps in Nepal and those resettled abroad would like to wish you personal peace and good health. We have come to learn that the Japanese government has decided to confer the ‘Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star Award’ to the former Home Minister of Bhutan (1991- 1998) Mr. Dago Tshering on 29th April 2021.

While we acknowledge the desire of your government to strengthen mutual relationship between Bhutan and Japan through the conferral of this award, we regret to state that this very gesture of goodness has unlocked deep seated injury and trauma that many of us Bhutanese have personally undergone during the Home Minister’s tenure.

Therefore, and most respectfully, we the undersigned signatories desire to express our concern and reservation over the choice of the recipient candidate. We call upon your government to use wise counsel to review the decision and rescind the said award from Mr. Dago Tshering. As the Home Minister, Mr. Dago Tshering exercised enormous power and authority, next only to the King. He misused his powers to silence and repress people often with no restraint or control.

His first authoritarian streak came on August 17, 1990, when he issued one of the most appalling directives from his office revoking the citizenship of thousands of southern Bhutanese citizens and their families who fled the country amidst widespread State persecution. His directive ordered that a ‘Bhutanese national leaving the country to assist and help the ‘anti-nationals’ shall no longer be considered as a Bhutanese citizen. It must also be made very clear that such people’s family members living under the same household will also be held fully responsible and forfeit their citizenship’.

The directive was the basis of expulsion of over 130,000 innocent Bhutanese citizens including the southern Bhutanese and the Sharchhops of eastern Bhutan. In the aftermath of this directive, the Home Minister allowed the security forces a free hand in harassing innocent men, women and children with impunity. This converged in the arrest and beatings of civilians, killings, arbitrary detention, torture, intimidation, custodial deaths and rape. Houses were set on fire, crops were destroyed, citizenship was revoked and private properties were confiscated. The arrest of several Buddhist monks in eastern Bhutan and the torturing to death of scores of innocent activists in school turned chamber of torture in southern Bhutan are but a few of the vindictive practices that testify the severity of State atrocities, which peaked from 1990-1993 during the Home Minister’s tenure.

Today, hundreds of Bhutanese torture and rape survivors inside Bhutan and in the diaspora continue to suffer from different levels of post-traumatic stress disorder. The local general practitioners and trauma specialists treating these Bhutanese PTSD patients around the globe can testify to this fact. Under the Home Minister’s watch, the Nepali speaking southern Bhutanese did not have the right to be educated in their own language. He derided the Nepali language by removing it from the schools, radio and the National Assembly. Hindu priests were asked to discard their religious practices and costumes. Free movement of people was restricted and free assembly was prohibited. People were fined or arrested for not wearing the national dress. Genuine citizens could not get counted under the Bhutanese census. The imposition of such restrictive policies and harsh measures further exacerbated sufferings and hardship among the people. Further, political and human rights activists were arrested, imprisoned, tortured, killed and evicted. Many of them have been forced to serve jail terms without fair trial or legal access to remedial rights. They suffered cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. These incidents of human rights violations have been well documented by several international organizations, many of whom have characterized such acts as a deliberate act of ethnic cleansing. The Bhutanese people have sustained very difficult lived experiences defined by violence, political repression, discrimination, ethnic profiling, hostility, criminalization, stigmatization, persecution and eviction on grounds of their political beliefs, ethnicity or cultural belonging.

The life of ordinary Bhutanese citizens during the Home Minister’s tenure intersected between psychological burdens of social discrimination and persecution and the need for individual security and identity. These created deep psychological pressures of living inside Bhutan, during his time. The Home Minister was personally involved in contravening the provisions of various international human rights treaties including but not limited to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, to mention a few. The Home Minister also disavowed public accountability by denying criticisms of atrocities and administrative excesses. He downplayed, misled or obstructed information by hiding facts or purposely stirring up stories in the media. He snubbed international journalists or blocked them if they desired to meet and investigate people affected by State violence.

Thus, he forced them to suffer their agonies in darkness behind closed curtains. Japan’s position stands tall and revered in the international community. Diplomatic expediencyapart, we do not see much value or significance in the choice of the recipient whose name has already been tainted both at home and abroad. Rather, the conferring of this award to Mr. Dago Tshering may inflict a serious damage to Japan’s international image.

The Home Minister has a dubious reputation as the most controversial minister in Bhutan known for his infamous military crackdown on the peaceful activists of the pro-democracy and human rights movement in 1990, which forced a sixth of Bhutan’s population to flee the country and take sanctuary elsewhere. One cannot possibly rule out a future investigation by an international tribunal for the excesses he has perpetrated during his term. Amnesty International revoked the Ambassador of Conscience award conferred on Aung San Suu Kyi in June 2012 on grounds of her ‘apparent indifference and silence over the treatment of Rohingya people in Rakhine State, Myanmar.

Yet, it pains to know that an architect of another human crisis is conferred with such a prestigious honor. We express our deepest concern over this decision. It also defies the meaning and purpose for which the Japanese Government has instituted this award. As the Japanese government proceeds to finally bestow the award to Mr. Dago Tshering, a perpetrator of human rights abuses, we sincerely urge your government to extricate itself from this commitment and withdraw the award from Mr. Dago Tshering. We thank Your Excellency in advance for your consideration and cooperation.

Most Sincerely,